- Text Size +

.o

.o

.o

.o

14. A Gift for the Future

.o

.o

.o

.o

The trees sang as heavy rain impacted their leaves. How did an entire forest surround his bed? Had he been transported, or was his bedroom transformed?

Mora brushed a butterfly off his shoulder. He watched it flutter around Leruu, it's iridescent wings shimmering like a sunrise.

"Oh, Leruu, the forest is singing."

"I love listening to it." Leruu rubbed her growing belly. She looked lovely in her purple wrap dress, which accentuated her pregnant frame. "The baby kicks more when you're with me. He wants to know you, Pol."

Mora played with her blonde ponytail. Above her head, the tree canopy was too thick to see the sky.

"He will know me soon."

She placed his hand on her abdomen. "Very soon. Can you stay and watch the sunrise?"

"I'm sorry...I can't this time..." Mora felt his eyes growing heavy.

Leruu pressed her lips to his brow. "It's all right. Sleep, my love. We'll watch the sunrise together when you're ready."

He slept.

Later, when he woke, his bedroom had gone back to normal. Kejal was curled up in Leruu's place.

"Father, hey." Kejal smiled at him. "How do you feel?"

Mora tugged on the edge of his nightshirt.

Kejal sat up and looked. "Oh, you need a change."

The cool air in the bedroom wasn't exactly comfortable. Mora no longer cared that his genitals were being cleaned by someone else. One less issue to worry about.

"The ointment is cold." He complained.

"I know, father. I'm almost done."

Mora's attention flickered to the butterfly. It got left behind when the forest disappeared. He smiled, letting it land on his wrist.

Then Kejal took his hand, smashing the insect into paste.

"Kejal! No, no!"

His outburst made Kejal jump. "Oh! What?"

"You crushed it. Why?"

"I crushed-- father, I'm sorry, I didn't see it there. I'm so sorry. Is it okay?"

Mora wiped the butterfly's pulverized remains on his sheets.

"You visited the forest again, didn't you?" Kejal still looked regretful.

"Mmhmm..." Mora's eyes wandered to the ceiling, where dozens more butterflies roosted.

Suddenly, the butterflies all took off at once. The whisper of their wings surrounded Mora before they flew out his bedroom door to...he had no idea where.

Kejal smiled shakily. He placed a straw in the mug on the table and held it up to Mora's lips. "Here, I made your deka tea."

The hot tea tasted bittersweet the way he liked it. Sucking it through the straw took a lot of energy. The tea went down wrong when he swallowed. He coughed violently, sending spasms of pain through his torso.

"Slowly." Kejal told him. He wiped the tea off Mora's chin and offered another sip.

Mora spat out the straw and closed his eyes. He awoke on the asteroid orbiting his star again. Odo was busily clipping his toenails for him.

How much time passed?

"Doctor Mora," Odo acknowledged him. "You're overdue to have these trimmed."

Nodding, Mora checked his fingernails. They, too, had been groomed.

"Do you remember Aleexa giving you a haircut?"

"No..."

"Ah. Well, she said you needed it."

"Mm. Thank you." Mora replied sleepily.

Odo finished trimming his toenails and set the clipper disk aside. He sat on the edge of the bed, his weight denting the mattress. "Do you need anything?"

Did he realize the entire universe shone in his blue eyes?

Mora reached out. He touched Odo's face. His eyelashes were damp with what could have been. The words he wanted to say came out of their own accord.

"I love you."

Odo seemed to flinch. "Is Leruu behind me?"

"No. I'm saying it to you."

Something in Odo's eyes screamed. A silent cry unheard for far too long.

"Thank you. I uh, I think Aleexa is making something in the kitchen. I should assist her. Excuse me."

He left in a hurry. Starlight trailed behind him.

Tears poured down Mora's face. All at once he felt Leruu's familiar hands stroking his cheek.

"He won't listen to me!" Mora sniffed. He turned his face towards the light of the nearby star.

"He will." Leruu kissed away his tears.

"When?"

She cradled his head on her chest. "When he is ready to believe it."

"Mmh, the pain is getting bad again."

"You'll get medicine in one more hour, my love. Shhh...oh, my beloved...I'm sorry."

"It hurts, Leruu, it hurts."

Her gentle hand squeezed his arm. "I know. It won't hurt forever, my dear husband."

Mora stared at the planet and moon as they spun through the glow of their parent star. He vaguely heard someone whisper his name. No, a dream...then they did it again, and his surroundings transformed once more into his familiar bedroom.

He peered at Kira's face through the haze of pain clouding his mind. At the sight of her, he started to weep. Lately, it was all he seemed to do.

"Oh, Pol." Kira cupped his cheek. The last time Mora saw her, she told him she would stop by the temple on Deep Space Nine and pray on his behalf. He wondered if she remembered.

Maybe it didn't matter.

"Is the pain bad right now?" asked Kira.

Mora nodded once. He hated crying, yet could not spare the energy to stop himself once he started.

"One second." Kira turned to the door. "Aleexa?"

Aleexa's distant reply, "Yes?"

Rather than shout at the other room, Kira walked into the doorway. "Pol is pretty bad in here. Should I dose him?"

"Go ahead. Mark it on his bedside PADD."

Kira followed Aleexa's instructions. Mora groaned when the hypospray hissed. The medicine took ages to touch his misery. Several more minutes passed before he relaxed again. He sensed a cool cloth on his brow.

"Leruu?"

"No, it's still me," whispered Kira. "Is that any better?"

"Uh-huh...thank you."

She washed the evidence of tears off his face.

"Leruu's belly is getting so big," Mora said.

"Is it?" Kira beamed. "Sounds like she'll have the baby soon."

"Mmhmm."

Odo stepped in behind Kira. He rubbed her shoulders and kissed her above the ear. Mora smiled at them together. Then he closed his eyes.

"I gave him more pain medicine. He was suffering." Kira still held Mora's hand between hers. "It's hard to see him like this."

"Two months..." Odo trailed off with a sigh.

Something tightened around Mora's frame. A membrane, strong and fibrous. He sensed it squeezing, and instinctively he knew what it meant if it ruptured.

No! Mora pushed it off. Not yet. You go away!

The tightness disappeared.

Slumber took the membrane's place.

Motion woke him. Someone's arms laid him inside something smooth and cool. The change in position sent pain shooting across his lower back. He groaned and squirmed.

Aleexa bent into his visual field. She smiled tenderly. "Hey, sweetie. You got sick to your stomach in your sleep and I don't think you want to smell like bile. Are you uncomfortable?"

"Yes," Mora answered simply. "Back hurts."

"Don't worry, the water will help. I thought you might like a bath in the tub one more time. It's going to be bed baths after this."

"I don't mind," said Mora.

Warmth flowed over his skin. Aleexa bathed him head to toe and gently washed his hair. It felt so nice he drifted back to sleep before his bath was finished.

Not long after, a familiar heat and scraping echoed through his consciousness. He looked up. Odo was shaving his face for him.

"I couldn't grow facial hair when I was humanoid," Odo remarked. "I grew hair everywhere else...but never my face."

Mora held his upper lip between his teeth. It made shaving under his nose easier. He refocused on Odo's face, which looked almost natural except for the lack of true eyebrows or facial hair.

"Careful of the butterfly," Mora whispered.

Odo stopped moving the razor. "Where is it?"

Mora brushed it off his nose. It joined the swarm roosting on his ceiling. He pretended not to see Odo roll his eyes. The razor resumed its smooth motions, soothing him into slumber.

Faces came and went. Once in awhile, they were followed around by the butterflies from the moon forest. He got upset whenever somebody accidentally smashed one. Did they realize it took ages to pick the remains off his sheets and clothes?

Kejal started 'policing' the visiting butterflies by arranging flowers in a vase on the windowsill. The insects landed there instead of on people, and the accidental killings stopped.

Mora noticed someone in bed with him. He wrapped his arm around the presence.

"It's me, father." Kejal kissed Mora's cheek.

"I love you," Mora whispered before letting his eyes lose focus again.

Hands rubbed his upper arms. "I love you, too. I know you're still in there, and I'm going to take care of you as long as you need me."

Mora wasn't sure whether he thanked him out loud or not.

"The fireflies like you," he said.

"Oh?" Kejal smiled. "How many are there?"

Mora showed him six fingers. He couldn't keep his eyes open anymore, but he still saw the fireflies through his closed eyelids.

"Do you want me to sing for you?"

"Mmhmm."

Delighted, Kejal pulled Mora close and sang softly against the top of his head. His gentle tenor voice lifted Mora into a place of pure, white light. There was no pain, no sickness-- only love and peace.

Mora hugged Kejal tighter, keeping his voice close. He glided past people he knew long ago. Flickering beings surrounded them. Such beauty beyond imagining...

Kejal's song ended. The brilliance withdrew like fog and Mora found himself in his bedroom again.

"Did you dream?" asked Kejal. "You look like you saw something amazing."

"Yes. I saw where I will go." Mora trembled. "It's so beautiful there. It's so beautiful."

Kejal kissed his hairline. "Go back to sleep. Maybe you'll dream about it again."

"I..." His bladder complained. Lately it emptied every time he felt an urge. This time, it didn't. He squirmed. "Need to make water."

"Go ahead. You're wearing something to keep you dry."

Clarity crystallized in Mora's mind. He shook his head. "I want to use the commode."

"Why?"

"Because men stand up to urinate, and I want to do this like a proper man!"

"All right. Okay. Shhh, it's fine. I'll assist you," Kejal said. He helped Mora stand up, unhooked the briefs and pulled the commode closer. "I promise not to watch. I'm closing my eyes."

"No. You can help me by leaving me alone for a moment. I want my privacy."

Understanding dawned in Kejal's eyes and he quietly stepped out. He closed the bedroom door behind him.

Mora swore his organs were rough bricks rubbing together against his muscles and nerves. He gathered the bottom of his nightshirt in his left hand, aimed himself with his right and relaxed.

It burned on the way out, but the relief curled his toes.

When he finished, he jiggled himself, tucked everything in and Kejal returned to lay him down. He glimpsed brownish-purple fluid in the commode before the transporter beams emptied it.

Time kept getting away. Hours passed in seconds, and seconds passed in hours. He remained half-aware even when he slept.

Rustling noises brought him back. Stars-- the correct ones-- twinkled outside the window. He was being repositioned on his right side in bed. The person doing it placed a soft body pillow behind his back and tucked another one between his knees.

He looked up when the presence slipped a washcloth under his cheek.

Odo smiled a little. "I didn't mean to wake you. You were having trouble breathing on your back. Are you comfortable?"

Mora indicated the affirmative. He reached behind him and squeezed the body pillow that somehow hugged the shape of his back perfectly.

Odo noticed his movement. His expression softened. "That's Kejal. He wanted to be your pillow tonight."

That made Mora chuckle. He had so much he wanted to say, and not enough energy for saying it. Words were so complicated. They got in the way. They mucked everything up.

He offered his hand instead.

Odo took it. His fingers were cool. He'd been outside.

Mora's entire body reacted to the chill. Goosebumps prickled his skin.

"I took the shape of Kejal's deka tree. Tonight was my third time," said Odo. "He's right. Trees do know things. They recognize the sun. They know whether the air is warm or cold. They sense their environment. Being a tree is probably one of the most peaceful shapes I've taken so far."

Mora noticed the forest fading in around Odo. No rain this time. An abundance of grasshoppers took its place. Bright yellow and green ones bigger than his thumb. He frowned, shooing them off his pillow.

"Doctor Mora?" Odo's voice sounded distant. "Is everything all right?"

The grasshoppers went away. Nearby, Leruu leaned on the trunk of a large, bushy tree.

"Odo," Mora forced his voice to work.

"Yes?"

"I love you."

.o

Those three words again. Odo's inner substance churned at hearing them. They were the only words Doctor Mora seemed to say to him, and he hadn't said much over the past twenty six hours. What kept possessing him to repeat himself like that?

Odo wanted to leave the room, yet Doctor Mora still held onto his hand. Making him let go would be cruel.

"Thank you," Odo said, keeping his tone neutral. "Do you want some water? Here." He grabbed the water glass and guided the straw between Doctor Mora's lips.

No response.

"Are you thirsty?"

Doctor Mora let go of Odo's hand and slapped the glass away. The spill proof lid was the only reason water didn't splatter across the floor.

"I love you," he said again. His eyes held nothing but sincerity.

Odo put the glass on the bedside table and rushed out of the bedroom. He almost ran over Aleexa in his haste to escape from himself.

"Oh!" Aleexa covered her tea mug to avoid a spill. "Excuse me, I didn't see-- Odo?" She put the mug on the kitchen counter. "Odo, no, don't run off. Sit down. Talk to me."

Odo didn't realize how late it was until he noticed Aleexa wearing a long knitted purple robe with black flannel pants underneath.

"He hardly talks anymore." Odo shook his head. "Except to say he loves me."

"Oh." Aleexa sat next to him.

"Why? Why?"

"Because he means it."

"It doesn't make sense."

"Odo, everything is falling away. His energy is focusing on releasing his pagh. It's just like labor. You said you reached a point where you didn't want to talk much. Pol is at that point now. He can't lie to you. He won't say anything that isn't important in some form or another, even if it sounds like nonsense to you."

"I want to believe him, but I can't...I can't! Dammit!" Odo's eyes and nose ached. He soothed it by rubbing them.

"Maybe you need a good cry." Aleexa whispered. "You seem to hold onto so much pain. It's not good for you."

"My people can't shed tears. Ironic, isn't it?"

"You didn't cry while you were a humanoid?"

"No. Um, where is Nerys?"

"Asleep. She fell asleep waiting up for you. I thought it best not to disturb her."

"Ah. No, let's not wake her."

"You stay put. I'm going to check on Pol. We'll talk when I come back."

Odo rested his elbows on his knees and held his head in his hands.

"Hey, sweetie. It's Aleexa. I'm just checking you over." Aleexa's voice filtered through the bedroom door. She reappeared a few minutes later. "He's asleep."

Shrugging, Odo stared at his palms. "I know Doctor Mora told you all about me, but have you heard my side of it?"

Aleexa hooked her finger through the loop of her tea mug. She rejoined Odo on the couch. "No, you never told me."

"I don't like to talk about it, but..." Odo clasped his fingers together and laid it all out. He spared no details. In about two hours, Aleexa knew as much as Kira.

"...and I can't reconcile the image of who he was with who he is." Odo said. Then he looked Aleexa dead in the eyes. "Just once, after I left the lab, I hoped he would drop dead. I took it back immediately, but a part of me wonders-- "

"No. Odo, no, you did not cause this. It's a disease. A rare and ugly disease." She wrapped her strong Talaxian hand around his wrist. Her touch didn't bring him the ripple of pleasure he felt from Kira. "Hold my hand and listen to me."

He obeyed, reluctantly.

Aleexa tapped on his knuckles. "You're struggling to make sense of this. You want to see the man you're familiar with, and instead you see him as he is now." She made a wiping motion. "That's his past self. It's changed, and so has he. Stop seeing the past when you look at him. Look only at the present. He hurt you, and you acknowledge that it wasn't intentional. It's time to forgive."

"I wish it were that easy, Aleexa."

She sipped her tea. "Odo, I grew up in an abusive foster home. Then I watched the woman who raised me die of cancer. It ravaged her body, and I was the only person qualified to take care of her. I know what you're thinking. One part of you says, 'Good, hurry up and get out of my life!' and the other part of you still cares enough to put it aside and help. And an even smaller part always longs to say things you've never told anyone else."

"Did you...?"

"Yes." Aleexa stared at the rim of her mug. "We reconciled and forgave, and I had no regrets when she passed away. She was Bajoran...her name was Entil Voana. She grew up during the Occupation, and I think it hardened her heart so much she became hateful. She thought her hate caused the cancer in the first place." She swirled her tea and finished it off. "Pol will make it clear when it's time to talk. Don't miss it, Odo. Whatever you do, pay attention."

Nodding, Odo sat back on the couch and stared at the edge of the sand mandala. In the dark, it appeared in tones of gray and black, barely distinguishable for what it really was.

"Don't stay up on my account. I can see you yawning." Odo smiled wryly. "I don't need to regenerate for another three hours. Nerys will likely get up and take over."

"All right. Wake me if you need anything."

The air in the empty room weighed on Odo's shoulders.

Doctor Mora remained unconscious all day the next day. Kejal puttered around in the garden. Kira sat with Odo while he stayed close by Doctor Mora's bedside.

Sometime around noon, Doctor Mora developed an awful nosebleed. Odo glanced up and found him with his face covered in red rivulets. The bleeding ruined four washcloths before it stopped.

Kira helped Odo clean up the blood. Fortunately, none of it got on Doctor Mora's nightshirt.

"He looks peaceful now," Kira said, taking Odo's hand.

Doctor Mora rested on his left side. Not quite snoring, but not breathing quietly either. His face looked so thin and his lips cracked where they touched his teeth. Kejal was liberal with the lip balm to control it.

Kira lifted the blankets off Doctor Mora's legs and massaged his feet. Her ministrations generated no response.

"Nerys?"

"His feet are so cold. Feel them."

Odo gasped. Doctor Mora's feet felt as chilled as the outdoor winter air. His toenails had a blue tinge that wasn't there yesterday, and his toes curled downward at an unnatural angle.

"Are his feet ticklish?"

"Yes."

Kira tickled one. Doctor Mora pulled his foot back without opening his eyes. Just like that!

"He's still with us." She grinned. "He's smiling. Look."

The small sign of life made Odo smile, too. "Aleexa says he can hear us."

"She's right." Kira pulled the blankets back down. "Here, you massage his hands."

Odo grasped both of his mentor's hands and slowly rubbed his fingers. They were so cold and pale. Blue had crept into his nail beds overnight, same as his toes.

"I'm not ready to lose you," whispered Odo. "If you can hear me...if any of this ridiculous nonsense is true, don't die tonight."

Doctor Mora's fingers grasped Odo's hands. Tightly. Then they relaxed again.

"He heard you." Kira said. "See?"

"Odo?" Aleexa hurried up to the doorway. "I need you to come here."

Odo noticed the worried expression on Aleexa's face and followed her into the back garden. Kejal was slumped against the trunk of the deka tree.

"I noticed him sweating heavily a minute ago." Aleexa's brow creased in worry. "Is he sick?"

"No. It isn't sweat." Odo saw the familiar shimmer on Kejal's skin. "It's all right, Aleexa. Thank you."

"What's the matter with him?"

"A lack of regeneration. If we don't revert to our liquid state once in awhile, we temporarily lose our ability to hold a shape."

Aleexa breathed a sigh. "That scared me. Will he be all right?"

"Mmhmm."

"Mother?" Kejal couldn't lift his head.

Odo gathered his son into his arms and carried him inside. "Shh, Kejal, I'm here. Everything is fine."

"Father needs me...he hasn't produced urine since sunrise. He's leaving us so soon."

"No. Not tonight, he isn't. He needs you to rest, Kejal. When was the last time you had a proper regeneration?"

"Fif-- sixteen hours. Held it off...hurts...hurts so bad, mother."

"Sweetie, you're wearing yourself out." Aleexa touched Kejal's hair, only to pull back when it almost melted. Despite that, her hand came away dry.

Odo gestured at the large vase. Aleexa brought it closer.

"Everything is fine, Kejal. Rest now. Please, for Doctor Mora, you need to regenerate."

"I can't." Kejal groaned. He writhed in Odo's arms, fighting his body. "Mother, I-- "

His head lost cohesion and actually fell off right before his torso melted. It rejoined the rest of his substance when Odo guided him into the vase.

If the sight scared Aleexa, she didn't show it.

Kira poked her head out of Doctor Mora's bedroom. "Is Kejal okay?"

"He'll be fine." Odo stated calmly. "He needs to regenerate for a long while to recover. He overexerted himself. Aleexa, where is that large frying pan lid?"

Aleexa retrieved it from the kitchen. "This one?"

"Yes." Odo placed the lid on the vase and set the vase in an out of the way corner. "There. Now he won't be disturbed. This vase is excellent at blocking outside stimulus."

"Should I monitor him?" asked Aleexa.

"No, thank you. Right now, the best thing we can do is leave him alone." Odo patted the vase. "Typical. He tries to do everything."

"I can't blame him." Aleexa squatted by the vase. "Sleep tight, Kejal."

Odo straightened, prompting her to do the same. Kira joined them in the kitchen.

Soon, the sounds of cooking and chatter filled the twilight air. While Aleexa and Kira ate, Odo checked on Doctor Mora. He hadn't moved at all, and wouldn't for the rest of the night.

.o

A vibration under the vase snapped Kejal to awareness. He flowed past the obstruction above him and, after some difficulty, assumed humanoid form. His eyes adjusted to the darkened room.

Mora sat on the couch just outside his bedroom door. He looked clean-shaven and alert. His hair was combed back in perfect order for the first time in several days. He'd swapped his blue short-sleeved nightshirt for the long-sleeved white one, which he wore with matching pants made of the same silky material.

"Father!" Kejal gasped. His hopes rose and suddenly sank upon realizing what this meant.

"Shhh, don't wake the whole house." Mora smiled. "Good morning, Kejal."

Kejal rushed to curl up in his father's lap like he did so many times in the past. Mora caught him in a strong hug.

"I'm sorry. I know this is difficult for you."

"Don't apologize, father...you can't help it." Kejal looked towards the window. "Oh, here it comes."

The golden sunrise made Mora's eyes gleam like clear blue oceans.

"It's the last one," Mora murmured.

"Hm?"

"Winter is over." He quoted Bajoran scripture against Kejal's hair. "'...then Death's cool veil lifted, clearing the way for Life eternal.'"

Life eternal...

Something glimmered in the sun's glare. Kejal squinted at it.

"Oh. Father...the first bloom on the deka tree! Look!"

Mora nudged him. "Go pick it and bring it in."

Kejal didn't know how he got outside without making enough noise to wake the planet. He plucked the star-shaped blossom off the tip of the branch and cradled it between his hands.

"Here." He scooted back inside and placed the flower on Mora's palm. "How does it smell?"

Mora sniffed it. "Sweet like the spring air."

"It's early...usually my tree takes another week to bloom." Kejal gazed at the flower in his father's hand.

With his fingers, Mora spun the flower around once and leaned forward to set it on the table. "Perhaps your tree is saying goodbye to me in its own way."

"Why do you say that?"

"I'm going to die tonight." Mora said simply.

At that, Kejal curled up in his father's lap again. The panic he used to feel didn't rise in his substance. After seeing Mora so sick and in pain, he knew trying to keep him would be torture.

"How do you know?" he asked.

"Because," Mora made a face, "I feel like I've held this shape far too long. It's time to let it go."

A sensation Kejal actually felt that very moment. The dull headache, the exhaustion and the desire to break out of himself-- he knew it well. He once explained holding his shape for sixteen straight hours probably felt like a humanoid waiting too long to empty their bladder. Eventually, both bodies took over and did what came natural regardless of time, place or circumstances.

Some of Mora's physical nuances edged into Kejal's awareness. He breathed shallower and more frequently than he used to. His skin was cooler and his pulse rapid. And his hands and feet were swollen. Not to a terrible degree, but enough for Kejal to notice a difference.

"Please don't tell the others. I'll tell Odo myself later." Mora sighed. "I want my last day to be a happy one."

Nodding, Kejal chewed his bottom lip. "Don't go if I'm not with you. I want to be there."

"Deal." Mora squeezed Kejal's shoulder. "I lived a good life, Kejal and you're part of the reason I found it worth living again. You made my last thirty years wonderful. Always remember that."

"I will." Closing his eyes, Kejal hid his face against Mora's shoulder. "I love you, father."

"I love you too, son." Mora patted his back. He moved one hand away. "I'd like to give you something."

"Oh? What?"

Mora took Kejal's wrist and placed something metal on his palm.

His Bajoran earring. Simply made, yet strong.

"My grandfather gave it to me just before he died. Now, I'm giving it to you. I'll be close to you forever."

"Father...I-- " Kejal bit his lip and placed the earring on his right ear. It was heavier than it looked. "How does it look on me?"

Mora took his chin and turned his head. His expression softened into a smile. "Like it was made for you."

Kejal nearly crushed Mora's shoulders in an embrace. The chain on the earring jingled faintly. He shook his head side to side a few times, listening to it. "It's noisy."

"Heh! You'll get used to it."

Once more, Kejal clung to Mora's clothing. "I still can't picture tomorrow. Not without you."

"Don't try. Don't worry about it. It will come." He laid his chin on top of Kejal's head. "To everyone who doesn't live here, it'll be just another day."

"Time is funny like that."

"Mmhmm. So, how about some deka tea?" Mora lifted his eyebrows. "Nobody makes it like you do."

Kejal grinned. "Coming right up!"

Steam rose as he brewed the tea until it turned dark reddish-purple. He tried a sip.

"Mmph!" Kejal's tongue burned. He spat the tea out on the counter and carried the mug to his father. "Ow. My mouth."

"You silly brat! What did you expect?" Mora held the mug in both hands, sipped from it and tipped his head back with his eyes closed. "Ahh, fantastic."

"You don't have any trouble drinking it hot." Kejal pouted.

Mora ruffled his hair. "It takes practice."

"I was trying to taste it." Kejal huffed.

"Your mother can't smell or taste yet. Be patient, Kejal. You have a long time to grow and evolve."

"Yeah, I know." Kejal sighed. He often prayed for patience...and he wanted it right then. It never worked.

Mora slurped another sip from his mug. Like a plant, he seemed to perk up more and more in the sunshine coming through the windows.

Kejal brightened. Why take in the sun from indoors? It was the first day of spring-- one of the warmest mornings of the year on Bajor!

"Hey, father...I have an idea. It's perfect outside. Do you feel up to helping me water the plants?"

"Let's find out."

Mora set his tea aside and struggled to his feet. He walked very slowly and rested on his cane twice, but he made it to the back door without assistance.

The deka tree's drooping branches brushed their faces.

Yes, old friend...I know. He won't be here long.

Kejal let Mora lean on him for support while he filled up the pail.

"How are you doing?"

"I'm fine, Kejal."

"Great!"

They held the pail between them and gave every plant in the garden a refreshing drink. Kejal didn't know where his father found the strength, but he admired it. He decided not to think about how little time they had and focused instead on existing moment to moment.

The chants he sang over the garden begged the Prophets for Mora's safe passage.

Once the plants were tended, Mora needed help going back inside. He resumed his place on the couch and finished off his tea. Kejal plopped down next to him. He could barely hold his shape, and Mora noticed right away.

"You feel mushy, Kejal. Are you regenerating properly?"

"I, um...but what if you need something?"

"I have what I need." Mora put his empty mug down. "Rest, son. The others will be up soon. I won't be alone for long."

"If you're sure."

"I am."

Kejal nodded, closed his eyes and let his solid form lose cohesion. He melted into Mora's lap. Like relaxing his hand after keeping it clenched in a fist. Relief overcame him instantly.

A short while later, he felt Mora move him into the vase by the wall.

"The others are up," he said. "I'm fine. Keep resting. You will need your strength tonight."

Yes, father...if you're right about later, I agree.

Two hours passed. Kejal sensed footsteps, laughter and voices. The noise passed his vase and faded outside. He reassumed his humanoid form without effort. His new earring migrated to his right ear. Another burst of laughter sent him peeking out the oval window.

Odo, Kira, Aleexa and Mora sat together in wicker garden chairs under the deka tree. Mid-morning sunlight bathed them. They all wore smiles-- even Odo.

Odo rolled his eyes at the story Mora told. Kira took his hand. Aleexa covered her mouth while she giggled.

"...so the wall panel turned into Odo, and the Cardassian officers ran like someone lit their back ends!"

"Yes, and the stunt almost resulted in Gul Dukat shutting down the lab," Odo grumbled. "But it was amusing to see three adult Cardassians running in terror. Weren't they reprimanded for their cowardice?"

"Oh yes." Mora wiped his nose.

Kejal made his way to the back door. Everyone except Odo had plates of Kira's fruit salad in their laps. Mora handed his to Aleexa after finishing half his food. She happily ate what he didn't.

"Father?" Kejal called out.

"He's up again!" Mora tapped Odo's arm.

Kejal saw a Tarkalean hawk flap out of Odo's chair. Aleexa and Kira suddenly took intense interest in their meals.

"Father," Kejal stepped outside. "What's going on?"

Mora shrugged. "I had Odo bring me out again. It's such a nice day. Come on," he beckoned Kejal closer and offered him the chair closest to the deka tree's trunk. "Have a seat. We saved a special spot just for you."

"Ooh!" Kejal bounded off the steps and plopped himself down in the chair.

"I see where your earring went," Aleexa giggled. "Kejal, it looks nice on you."

Kira chewed and swallowed. "Let me see?"

Smiling, Kejal turned his head to let them look at Mora's earring on his ear.

"Now!" Mora called.

"Wha-- " Kejal heard a swish and suddenly an entire sack of deka seed pods poured onto his head. The impacts sounded like firecrackers. By the time the deluge finished, Kejal had seed pods in his hair, seed pods stuck in his clothing and several seed pods piled up in his lap.

He looked up to find his snickering mother sitting on a branch, holding the rope to the bag.

Mora roared with laughter. He slapped the arm of his chair. "That's my revenge for all the deka seed pods!" He guffawed. "How do you like it?"

Beside him, Aleexa and Kira failed to stifle their giggles.

Kejal shook the seed pods out of his hair and joined their mirth. "You got me. You all got me!"

Odo hopped down. The smirk hadn't left his face. "So sorry...didn't you spend a day raking these up?"

"More like two hours." Kejal pretended to look scandalized. "I can't believe you helped them. Traitor!"

"Hmph!" Mischief gleamed in Odo's eyes. "I'll clean this mess up. Nice earring, by the way." He nodded towards Mora and lowered his voice. "I think he needs help."

"Thanks, mother." Kejal beamed at Odo and headed towards a still-chuckling Mora. "Ready to go inside?"

Mora nodded. "I'll rest in my favorite chair. Don't move me if I fall asleep. I want to be part of the household for a little while."

"Sure. Do you need to use the commode at all?"

"No...thank you." Mora wrapped his arm around Kejal's waist. "You have a seed pod on your shoulder."

They looked at each other and broke into laughter once again.

Kejal helped Mora stand. When he saw how wobbly his father was on his feet, he scooped him up in his arms and carried him to the chair by the oval window.

By the Prophets, you weigh so little now.

"Well, that's one way to do it." Mora coughed a laugh. "Bring me my triptacederine hypospray."

Kejal did that. He returned it to the bedroom once Mora used it.

Kira edged in next to Kejal. She placed a water jug and a glass on the table. "Pol, how are you doing?"

He smiled, looking tired. "I'm all right...just resting a little."

"Do you need anything? I can bring it for you."

"Oh, thank you. The water is fine for now. You're so kind, Nerys. No wonder Odo loves you like he does. Thank you for making him so happy."

Kejal felt rather than saw Kira blush. She leaned over to kiss Mora's cheek. "Thank you for discovering him. He wouldn't be here without you."

Mora's eyes softened. He took Kira's hand. "If we don't talk again...always remember you're a sweetheart, Nerys."

"Ah, Pol, so are you." Kira patted his hand. Mora smiled and rested his head against the back of the chair. She gently laid his hand in his lap.

Kejal turned to Kira. "Should we go help mother clean up those seed pods? Father's prank made one hell of a mess out there."

"Yeah. Wait, hold on." Kira stopped him and picked a seed pod off his collar. She held it up, grinning. "So, are you going to tell me about this prank war?"

"Oh, sure! But, so it's official, father definitely won!" Kejal let Kira step outside first. "It started when I climbed my deka tree for the first time and knocked a seed pod onto his head, so I decided to perform a couple of cause and effect experiments..."

Chapter End Notes:
**Chapter soundtrack**

Dreaming in Places: https://app.box.com/s/wxeh1o20pionnlhimn66

Comforting Lullaby: https://app.box.com/s/tj8nmfkc1fz6ol8p5jbo

Odo's Conflict: https://app.box.com/s/sfuhqhw61d1laxxjceww

Sunrise With Father: https://app.box.com/s/2vake7c0pn8n49dxlg6d

Deka Seed Revenge!: https://app.box.com/s/7n44q8gznzeynpsaz0ae

You must login (register) to review.